It wasn’t a bad dream. There was no nightmare to wake up from. It is all real. So very real. Today and tonight was an opportunity those of us who were George’s friends and family to gather and celebrate his life, and all that he brought to those he touched.
I can’t say enough how incredible the outpouring of love has been for George and his family, both immediate and extended. I have no doubt in my mind that he felt this love – although I seriously doubt he ever truly realized the impact he had on so very many people in his life.
My day started with a quiet 6 mile run along the Iron Horse trail, which was one of George’s favorites for running and bike riding as well. I ran with no music or app – just me and the path, silently reflecting upon life and running through my mind the speech I had written for his celebration of life service that was to be held at 5 pm.
Cathy and Janelle invited me yesterday on a short hike up and down the hills behind their home this morning – another favorite of George’s. We walked and talked together, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to have together time with no outside distractions or demands.
We also planned to meet for lunch today at George’s favorite Danville brewpub, Pete’s Brass rail and carwash. One of the original East Bay brewpubs, Pete’s was where George loved to eat and especially drink beer. He was an original member of the beer club, and collected more than 600 beers on his Connoiseeur’s Club card over the years. It was a fitting tribute to George as more than 25 friends and family members enjoyed a final burger and beer in his honor. George had talked Paul and I into joining the beer club when we moved to the Bay Area in 1998. But with him gone, we agreed there was no reason to keep our cards and we brought them home, while George’s epic card stayed with Cathy and the girls.
The celebration of life service began at 5 pm at the family’s church, East Bay Foursquare – no more than two miles from their home. It was touching and comforting to see so many faces from the past arrive to pay their respect. Friends drove from Southern California and all over the state and one relative flew in from Vancouver Island just to be with us and celebrate George’s life.
The service and speeches were beautiful. I was so very proud of my nieces Janelle and Megan (May) when it was their turn to speak. We all knew how emotional and difficult it would be for them but they rose to the occasion and blew us all away with their funny, emotional and honest memories of their father. Paul and I were provided the opportunity to speak as well, and again I was so very proud as I listened to Paul eloquently and passionately explain the impact George had on his life as the “baby” of the family. When it was my turn to speak, a flood of emotions rushed over me as I first opened my mouth and my voice quivered. I paused and after a few moments of feeling choked up, was able to slowly begin my speech.
After the service, a reception was held providing us with an opportunity to visit and socialize with many of the guests (more than 400 attended the service). It was touching how many strangers approached me to share their relationship with George – and explain how much he meant to them.
As I sit here in my hotel room I feel emotionally drained and exhausted. Our world was forever rocked Tuesday night when we all learned the news about George’s accident and passing.
Tomorrow we’ll all be leaving and beginning to try to return to our lives and routines. It’s going to be a difficult journey for all of us but I also know that this experience has pulled together two families like never before and we’re going to be a bigger part in each other’s lives moving forward.
Here is a transcript of the speech I gave in celebration of George’s life:
It’s an incredible honor to speak to you all today about George. I know I speak for my entire family when I say thank you for your outpouring of support, love and sharing of your memories of George and how he touched and impacted so many lives.
In some ways, George and I were opposites. He was a baby boomer. I was Generation X. He got married in his young 20s, I waited until I was in my 30s. My wife is 5’10, Cathy is well, you know. He had two daughters. I had twin sons. You get the idea.
But despite our differences there was always one constant: we were family first. And George never ever forgot that – nor let me forget it.
Like all of us here, George grew, evolved and changed as his life progressed. The man he was at 55 was obviously very different from the child and teen we knew growing up.
Growing up George was the ultimate big brother. He protected and stuck up for us younger siblings early and often.
When I was a young child I decided I would try driving our station wagon. I climbed into the car and put the gear into reverse. We lived on a hill and the car started rolling backwards. George had been playing nearby and sprung into action. He jumped into the drivers seat hit the brake and put the gear into park – preventing what could have been a bad situation. He was 12.
I was probably around the same age when our family took our first trip to Disneyland. Brer Wolf took my stocking hat off my head and teased me by dangling it just high enough so I could’t grab it. What did George do? He went over and punched the costumed character right in the gut. I got my hat back.
George loved cars as a teen. And I mean LOVED them. To this day, he’s still the only person I know who saved enough money to buy a car before he had his driver’s license. He had some pretty sweet rides too. Everyone who lived on Cassena Drive and neighboring streets remember his GTO and especially his Cuda. In the Summer when Paul and I slept with our window open, he would wake us up starting that engine and we would hear him driving to work in the mornings when had to open McDonald’s – until he was miles away and on the other side of the hill on Ygnacio Valley Blvd.
BTW, it was no coincidence that one of his favorite songs was “I can’t drive 55” by Sammy Hagar.
Speaking of music – George introduced me and the rest of the family to a LOT of 70s rock. He didn’t just have a record player in his room – no, he bought a full blown stereo system that he wasn’t afraid to use to its fullest capacity. I can’t tell you how many times I had “Smoke on the water” stuck in my ear thanks to George. I am confident that I was the only 5th grader in my school who knew Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Doobie Brothers, The Scorpions, Queen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thanks to George. He taught me a great trick too: whenever mom yelled at him to turn down the stereo, he would turn the volume up first – and then back to its original level. For some reason it didn’t work quite as well for me though when I tried it later.
When we were in high school, Paul and I decided to host our own toga party when mom and dad were out of town. George wanted to make sure things didn’t out of hand so he (and Cathy) agreed to serve as bouncers for the party. Things didn’t get out of hand.
How many big brothers would do that?
Later in life George was the original Kaufer entrepreneur – he had the courage and drive to start his own company…Kaufer Construction. And this inspired me later to also start my own company in my 20s. I figured if George could do it, why can’t I?
George was a truly passionate father. From taking baby Janelle with him to job sites to bravely traveling alone with the girls when they were 5 and 3 on a train ride to Portland – there is nothing he loved more than being a Dad. And when the opportunity arose for him to an uncle to our children – he embraced that role just as passionately. He was an awesome uncle.
Before he was a wine connoisseur George was a beer-lover. I recruited George to run on our Hood-to-coast relay team in the early 90s – not long after he started running. The HTC requires you to run 3 separate legs of 4-6 mile runs. George was struggling on his final leg until we dangled a beer out the back of the van as his reward. He kicked it into gear and finished strong.
I have great memories of spending time with George and his family at both Pete’s and the Hopyard – and marking off those beers from our beer club cards. When Renee and I lived in the Bay Area, George and I were teammates for the first and only time in our lives (along with Cathy, Renee and many others in the audience today) on the legendary Chili Peppers co-ed softball team. We weren’t that good but we had a lot of fun.
More recently whenever we talked on the phone and I’d ask how he was doing, George would often say “Living the dream!” Lots of people say that but I really believe George meant it. He was living his dream of living where he wanted to live, spending time with those he wanted to be with and loving those who he loved.
We are gathered here to celebrate George’s life and there is much to celebrate. I think it’s important to step back and think about the collective work of George’s life when you remember him. Think about how far he came as a professional, brother, son, father, husband and man. I, for one, could not be more proud of him.
One of my favorite authors – John Steinbeck – put it well when he said:
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
I know I speak for so many when I say that our world will be a bit darker without George in it.
God Bless You George and may you Rest in peace